The Legend Of Alcana

Jade Cocoon

By Artificer Urza

Deep in the mountains lay the land of Parel in which grew the Great Forest. Overlooking the forest on the mountain lay the village of Syrus. At the edge of this village, past the graveyard, grew a lone tree and beneath that tree sat an old man. This old man had come to sit beneath the tree for many years, as he was no longer fit for manual labor. However, the old man possessed a wealth of stories and knowledge he could pass on to the younger generation. He turned to his young audience, the children of Syrus, and eyed them quizzically.

"So. What story do you wish to hear today hmmmm?" He asked, smiling at the children.

"Can you tell us the Legend of Alcana?" A little girl asked.

Her name was Mahbu and the Nagi woman Garai had brought her to Syrus when she was just an infant. Being of the Nagi people, both Garai and Mahbu were treated as outcasts, but the children readily accepted Mahbu, as they had not yet inherited the prejudices of their parents.

"Are you all in agreement? This is the story you wish to hear?" The old man inquired of the small crowd of children. He watched as all nodded vigorously and he leaned back against the tree, preparing to tell the story.

"Very well then. This is a tale of the Kingdom of Gehena Pale, which stretched across these lands long ago. Once upon a time Prince Menek, son of King Karis, set out with his vassals to hunt in the forest."

*******

The sun was just rising as prince Menek stood at the gates of Gehena Pale as his vassals made final preparations for the hunt. Menek stood at about six feet, a good foot higher than most of his people. He had the same dark skin, dark eyes and black hair common to his people as well as a thick, black beard. He was lean but quite muscular due to years of hunting in the Great Forest. He turned to his troop, watching as they collected their equipment: they each carried a recurved short bow and quiver of arrows, as well as a scimitar. Two porters came as well with a small wagon to carry back any prey the prince caught.

"Is everything in order?" Prince Menek asked of his Hunt Master.

"We can leave anytime you wish us to milord." The aged, though still capable, Hunt Master responded.

Prince Menek merely nodded and motioned for his vassals to follow. They walked along a road with set stones, a road called The King's Way as it was a road that safely lead through the forest, made by the king's order. Along the road were small pillars marking each mile. Atop each pillar was a stone statue of a lion sitting on its hind legs, its front paws held together as though in prayer. Even though this was the more civilized part of the forest, the trees and bushes and innumerable other foliage were close together, forming a wall of sorts; also there were the noises, the shrieking of birds, the rustling of the forest and chattering of fairies and pixies which gave the impression that the area was not as civilized as was believed.

Many miles and statues down the road, the group came to a hunter's track: a small dirt path leading off the main road and deep into the forest. Here the group left into the forest but left the porters behind as the wagon was too large to move through the forest. From there the company became quiet and moved cautiously, listening for prey. After a long period of time Prince Menek spoke to the company.

"We shall split up here. If any one sees anything blow on their caller three times and we shall come." He said as he lifted the small whistle, which imitated the cry of certain birds.

"Milord is that wise, splitting up I mean? What if you got lost? We could not report this to the king and keep our heads." One of them said distraughtly, more worried for his own neck rather than his liege's son's safety.

"Don't worry!" The prince laughed. "I have been hunting in this forest for a long time. But if you think it necessary, I say we shall meet back at the wagon on the road before nightfall. All right?"

"If you say, milord." The vassal said not very satisfied with the answer but unwilling to argue.

The group split up, each going their separate ways deeper into the forest. Prince Menek traveled for hours deeper into the forest, until he glimpsed at something. It was a mere flash of white, it could have been anything: a fairy's wing, a flower or, as the prince hoped, the tip of the horns of a deer. As he did not know what it was he did not call his vassals and pursued the image further into the forest.

As prince Menek went deeper into the forest, a fog began to envelope him and the surrounding area, though, as intent on his prey as he was he did not notice it. After a great while he stopped to rest. Looking up he saw that fog spread everywhere around him, he did not know where he was. He, the prince who had hunted in these woods all his life, was lost. Panicking, he ran through the forest becoming more and more lost. As he wandered in the thick fog he entered a clearing where the fog was not so thick, in fact it seemed no existent in that place. The clearing was a marsh, and in the center of the marsh grew an enormous tree. The tree was undoubtedly the largest tree in the forest, for no matter how high he looked up he could see no branches, only the trunk. He watched the tree silently, thinking that perhaps he had found the Divine Tree, the tree of Elrihm, God of the forest and creator of all life. As he watched he suddenly heard the sound of sobbing, though he knew not from where. As he looked around the marsh he spotted a young woman sitting all alone, weeping by the marsh. He stood there stunned for he had never seen a woman of such great beauty as the one who sat before him, unaware of his presence. She had skin the color of lightly creamed coffee and her hair was like spun gold. She was lithe and wore only a sleeveless gown as she sat by the marsh. Prince Menek had no idea how long he simply stood there watching her, wishing he could see her face. Though he made no sound, she moved suddenly as though disturbed by a noise.

"Who is there?" She said. She had a beautiful voice, to Menek it sounded like music unmatched in beauty even by the greatest musicians of his father's court.

"I am sorry to have startled you, oh fair one. Please tell me, who are you why do you weep?" He said his heart filled with the desire to comfort her.

"I am Alcana, I have just buried my mother here in the marsh of Uban." She said.

And then she looked up at the prince. He was thunderstruck by her beautiful eyes; they were large and were the color of tiger-eye gems. He felt about Alcana as he felt about no one before; he felt that he should never leave her side for fear that he should never see her again. He sat next to her and looked out over the marsh.

"I am prince Menek of Gehena Pale. Milady, I want for you to come with me back to the city. You should not be alone in such a time." He said, taking her hand.

"Milord is generous, but I cannot leave here." She responded.

"If you cannot leave, then allow me to keep you company for a few hours at least." Menek said with a smile.

The two spoke for a long time and learned much of each other. During the course of their conversation Menek found that she cared for him in the same way that he did for her. To Menek it was astonishing that he could wander in the forest and find someone about whom he felt so strongly and find that she cared for him in the same way. He felt that it must have been fate that guided him here.

The sun was beginning its descent as Menek noticed the time. With many apologies to Alcana, he rose to leave then looked around confusedly as he had no idea where to go to rejoin his vassals.

"Ummm. I'm sorry to trouble you milady, but I don't know how to return to my friends. Perhaps you know the way to return to the main road?" Menek asked Alcana.

Alcana merely smiled and raised her hand, her palm facing upwards. Two tiny lights floated down from the unfathomable heights of the great tree. As the two lights rested on Alcana's palm, Menek realized that they were, in fact, fairies, but as to how Alcana had summoned them he had no idea.

"These two shall lead you to your friends." Alcana smiled as the two lights swirled around Menek and headed off into the forest, stopping at the edge of the wall of trees.

"I am in your debt milady, I shall return." Menek said as he followed into the depths of the forest.

Menek followed the two lights as they twisted and turned through the forest, taking seemingly random turns hither and thither. Menek looked often towards the sun when he could see it through the canopy; it was getting very late and he needed to get back to his vassals on the King's Way before they did something foolish such as go look for him in the dark. Amazingly enough, to Menek's perspective, he did come out of the forest, on the King's Way and near where the porters and the rest of his vassals were. They had been discussing searching for him while there was still a little light left. As they demanded where he had been, Menek merely shook his head and laughed; he told them only that he had been lost and had been fortunate to find a way back to the road and they never questioned him further.

For many days afterwards prince Menek would go off into the forest alone. Whilst the first time he had found Alcana by luck, or so it had seemed at the time, he found her in the quickest most efficient manner possible every time afterwards. Menek was tempted to say that he was drawn to her. He always brought gifts for her, whether it was something as simple and common as flowers or extravagant and beautiful as jewelry.

One day he entered the clearing of the marsh of Uban but went in no farther as he watched Alcana and a beautiful old buck. It had ten points on its antlers, signifying it as the oldest of all bucks he had seen. But more amazing still was that Alcana appeared to be talking to it. As Menek approached the buck sensed his coming and fled leaving Menek and Alcana alone in the marsh.

"Milady, I don not wish to be rude, but were you speaking to that animal?" He asked cautiously.

"The animals of the forest have many wise things to say if only, we the Beasts of Knowledge, would listen." She smiled kindly as she answered.

Suddenly turning to face the forest, Alcana spread her arms and sang. The melancholy tune tore at Menek's heart, but he felt awed by the shear beauty of the song. From within the forest thousands of birds, insects and small animals came forth. The some of the birds landed on Alcana's arms adding their song to hers, the insects flew around her and the small animals sat by her legs. Those that did not fit in anywhere near her climbed around the great tree. To Menek, Alcana seemed a beautiful angel or divine forest spirit, and he nearly wept at the beauty of it. Suddenly Alcana stopped signing and all noise in the forest stopped. Not even so much as the dropping of leaves was heard. Alcana lowered her arms and all the birds, insects and animals left, leaving no trace of them having been in the clearing.

"I speak to all the insects, birds, animals and even the trees of the forest." She said as she approached Menek. "All living things have a heart and all sign a special song that anyone could here were they just to listen."

"And what song does my heart sing?" Menek asked as Alcana came and pressed her body against his.

"Your heart sings the same song as my heart." She responded as Menek kissed her passionately.

Menek's comings and goings through the forest had not gone unnoticed by the populace of Gehena Pale. The prince's mysterious forays into the forest were cause for speculation by the common people and the marketplace became fertile ground for rumormongers and their wares. The most popular and most widely believed rumor was that a witch had stolen the prince's heart. The rumor was so strong that it eventually reached the palace and the ears of the king. The king concerned for his son's welfare brought the prince before him.

"Menek, I have heard a disturbing rumor circulating among the people." He told his son.

Menek merely stood before King Karis and said nothing. Indeed, he would say nothing that might incriminate himself or his beloved Alcana in any wrongdoing.

"They say that you are going into the forest to meet with a witch who has magically stolen your heart, a witch who is planning to destroy our kingdom!" Karis said, maintaining his calm.

"Whoever 'they' are they don't know what they are talking about!" Menek growled glaring at his father.

"Regardless of what you say, I can't allow you to see anyone who may be a threat to this kingdom!" Karis shouted.

"But father." Menek began to shout back, but King Karis raised his hand silencing his son.

"I will tolerate no argument on the matter! However." Karis said as he stroked his long black beard. "I am not a totally unreasonable man, even if I am king." He chuckled. "If your lady can give a token, a gift to prove that she has no malevolent intentions, I will let you see continue to see her. But if she does not I will have a guard set out at the gates to prevent you from leaving this town. You may go and see her to tell her, and if you are not back by sundown I will have every soldier in the kingdom looking for you!"

Prince Menek had spoken to Alcana that very day. She had already heard because of a bird that had been in the palace that day and she had begun weaving a beautiful cloth for the king. It was made of a pure white silk and since it there were no silk mills in the deep forest Menek had to ask where she had gotten it. She replied that fairy cocoons were mad of this silk and that the fairies had brought her some of their empty cocoons to use for the cloth. Her skill at weaving was without peer, at least in Menek's eyes. Menek brought back the cloth to his father, who was enthralled by the beauty of the silk.

"Where did this beautiful silk come from?" Karis asked.

"It came from the cocoons of fairies, father." Prince Menek replied.

Had Menek been watching his father closely he would have seen a greedy glint in Karis' eye. However, Menek saw nothing, he was so happy to be allowed to see his beloved Alcana again. King Karis was so enamored of the silk that he sent his soldiers into the forest where they ravaged for fairy cocoon. Many cocoons were brought back; most of them still had fairies within. The king cared not and had the fairies boiled alive for their silk. The king's greed and desire consumed him as darkness fell over the kingdom of Gehena Pale. Menek confronted his father when he heard what was happening. Full of fury, Menek stormed into the throne room and stood before his father and demanded him to cease hunting for fairy cocoons, to stop harming the forest. Karis merely looked at him with an evil glint in his eye; the king was not the man he had once been. Menek pursued his demand and the king grew more and more angered until finally he yelled in rage.

"TRAITOR!" Karis yelled. "Any who tells the king what to do is a traitor, any who speaks against me is a traitor and any who does not obey me is a traitor. Guards seize him and throw him in the deepest dungeon!"

The guards were reluctant at first but with another pointed command from Karis they complied. Menek was thrown in the deepest, darkest cell in Gehena Pale's prison and he was never heard from again.

Alcana heard of the tragedy from the animals, birds, insects and trees and all the forest wept with her for Menek was a good man. Alcana cursed her fate to be without her beloved and she lamented the foolishness of man. Her sorrow was so great that she cast herself into the marsh where her mother lay. As she began to drown, she heard a voice: it was powerful, gentle and full of sorrow. It was the god of all creation Elrihm.

"I am Elrihm. I shall grant you your wish, tell me what you want." Elrihm said.

Alcana told Elrihm everything that weighed upon her heart, about Menek, about king Karis and the silken cloth and his Karis' greed.

"Greed brings destructive knowledge." Alcana said. "Its wicked power will be the end of the forest. All hope is lost, the Beasts of Knowledge shall never live in harmony with the forest. The one light of hope I so loved perished at the hands of the Beasts. I now go to where my love, Menek, awaits."

"So you claim that your true love was torn asunder by the greed and hatred of the Beasts of Knowledge? When light is swallowed up by darkness I shall unleash ruin upon the land returning all unto the nothingness from whence it came. I have a firm grip upon the darkness in your heart." Elrihm said.

That day a giant dark cloud flew towards the city of Gehena Pale made of a swarm of giant insects, locusts.

*******

".And from that day forward, demons appeared in the forest, terrifying all they came upon. The Kingdom of Gehena Pale fell to ruin by the swarms of Onibubu, Locusts of Apocalypse." The old man finished.

"Such a sad story." Mahbu said.

"And the where did the demons come from?" A young boy named Levant asked.

"The demons that haunt the forest now are the beasts spawned by the greed in man's heart. Fear not though, for one day Alcana, Menek and Karis shall one day be reincarnated and they shall break the curse they wrought upon the land." The old man said his gaze resting upon the forest.